UFC 174: Johnson vs. Bagautinov - Rory MacDonald vs. Tyron Woodley Preview and Prognostication

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Rory MacDonald tries to prove he's still a future title contender in the Welterweight division when he takes on a peer trying to prove the same point in Tyron Woodley at UFC 174 in Vancouver, Canada.

Rory MacDonald vs. Tyron Woodley Welterweight

Can we talk about something else before doing the preview?

Like how the Oxford English Dictionary just added the word 'hashtag' to its lexicon?

Uhh, no. I was thinking something along the lines of how carbon nanotubes developed from Desert beetles can suck water out of thin air...

Wow. You're a bigger dork than I am.

Screw you. Fine, Rory vs. Woodley at even odds. Go.

Rory MacDonald is in an interesting spot among fans in that he's had a bipolar relationship with them; something illustrated by the constant tug of war between arbitrary nicknames (Ares, Canadian Psycho, and the Waterboy?). One night you'll see him suplex the whole 209 out of a Diaz brother, and the next he's imitating Tim Sylvia against Jake Ellenberger.

In the meantime, he lost to the real life Ares (Robbie Lawler), and took Damian Maia to a forgettable decision (I actually enjoyed the fight).

Meanwhile, Tyron Woodley is actually turning into the fighter fans thought Rory would be: an exciting dose of ultra violence injected into a wrestling happy welterwight division that tries the patience of a mostly ADHD audience (not you, dear BE readers).

While his win over Condit was fortuitous, you might say, I think he was showing exactly why he's still such an excellent addition to an already stacked division. Granted it wasn't that long ago that he lost to Nate Marquardt by brutal KO, and he didn't look good against Jake Shields at UFC 161, but few ever look good against Shields.

The oddsmakers are correct by any measure: it's impossible to predict with any accuracy whatsoever how this fight could go but there's a lot to unpack.

The first thing to do is to look at fighter patterns. When MacDonald loses, it's because he's dealing with a talented, but hyperaggressive fighter. Carlos Condit and Robbie Lawler won because they kept the pressure on MacDonald without sacrificing their talent. This is certainly something Woodley will find hard to replicate. That's not to say he can't win. Just that this isn't his style.

Another pattern to consider is how Rory tends to win, especially lately: he's a patient and calculated striker. He sticks to his jab in a professional manner and only uncorks a confident right hand when he falls into his rhythm. Rory's major flaw as I see it, is that he doesn't fall into a rhythm quick enough.

In fact, their career trajectories are interesting in that a lot of what limited Woodley's success early in his career is also what seems to be defining Rory's "decline".

LOL. Rory's past his prime at age 24???

Of course not you dolt. I'm saying I don't think Rory has yet to really fulfill his potential, and he's losing fights because of some bad strategy. For example, Woodley had never strung together strikes in bunches early in his career. He still relies on a right hand kill shot, but he's better at pressuring fighters with his strikes, and doubling up whereas Rory is the one who relies too much on single strikes to inflict damage. He doesn't seem to understand that the essence of MMA success is the principle of more pop, and less poetry.

A jab is great, and being technically proficient with is nice, but it's a means to an end. Not an end in itself. GSP could dominate with his jab because he was constantly a threat elsewhere, especially on the ground. I think Rory has some of that potential, but whereas GSP wanted the fight on the ground, Rory isn't so sure. He's a jack of all trades fighter who is secretly a master of at least one trade he hasn't yet figured out.

A part of me feels like Maia lost his bout with Rory more than Rory won it. And yet I won't pretend like Rory is fatally flawed. Woodley still has problems with wanting his right hand to do all the work. This fight will be suspenseful, but I don't know that it will translate to action packed. And I worry that Woodley won't be able to figure out the distance game in time ala Ellenberger.

However, I'm picking Woodley precisely because I think he's better than Jake. And Jake had a good gameplan going in the third round of their bout: threaten the takedown, toss the right hand, rinse, and repeat. Rory is good at defending himself on the feet, but only when he's not having to deal with blistering speed.

I've liked the way Woodley's game continues to progress. He sexes his striking up with spinning backfists and hard leg kicks, which is why I don't see him failing to Rory's jab. Conversely, Rory has stripped his standup of its sex appeal.

Your analogies are making me uncomfortable.

Hush hush, Senator. All I'm saying is that I think this will be a quiet kickboxing bout with moments of electricity, and Woodley has the slight edge.

Tyron Woodley by Decision.

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